Wednesday, 7 May 2014

The Blog Fantastic 018: The Legend of Huma review

Cover by Duane O'Myers
I've mentioned before that I read a lot of Dragonlance novels in my early teen years. I’ve continued to read some from time to time since then but it's been a few years since I revisited some of the novels I actually liked and think I might still like today. The Legend of Huma written by Richard A. Knaak (his first published novel) is one of those novels. It’s pretty clear to me why I liked this book so much when I was younger. It’s full of action and crazy battles. The book just throws them at you one after another. It lets up from time to time to attempt some form of characterization but for the most part, it focuses on the war between the forces of Dark and Light and how that related to Huma’s development as a legendary hero of Ansalon.   

The story takes place centuries before the event of the original Chronicles as written by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman. Huma is a young Knight of Solmania fighting the dark forces of Takhisis, god of Evil, during the Third Dragon Wars. The Knights are slowly losing the war but they continue to fight on in order to protect their land and stop the spread of evil across the lands of Solmania and Ergoth. After a confrontation with the enemy, Huma is separated and it’s then that he encounters Kaz the Minotaur and saves his life. This leads to an unbreakable friendship between the two. While lost from his regiment, Huma encounters some of Palandin’s (the god of Light) dragons and this puts him on the path that eventually leads him to find the dragonlances which allowed the Knights to defeat Takhisis and end the war. That’s the extent of the story Knaak throws in plenty of action to keep things interesting for the reader and it works because The Legend of Huma is very entertaining.

Look at those sexy mustaches!
That's the real reason he's a legend.
The story develops quite a bit on the Knights of Solamnia. For those who are familiar with the Knights (and if you picked up this book it’s very likely that you are), they value honour above all else and live their lives according orders within the knighthood and the most prestigious is the Order of the Rose which is made up almost exclusively with men of royal bloodline. In the Dragonlance series Huma is often described as the ideal knight and it’s a nice little bit of character development of Knaak’s part because Huma because he’s really the atypical Solmanic Knight. To his fellow knights he’s a legend in the making or a disappointment, depending on who you ask. The reason being is that Huma doesn’t buy into the politics of the Knighthood. He takes the lessons of the Oath and the Measure to heart and that’s what directs his actions, not a desire to the Oath and the Measure, a set of rules for the knighthood written by their founder, Vinas Solamnus. What’s interesting is that Knaak writes the knighthood as a political body. There are there to rise in the ranks or the please a superior officer. His relationship with Kaz developed because he did what he thought was right and thus he earned Kaz’s respect. HE didn’t bow down to or bought into the racist hatred of Minotaurs. His fellow knights would have attacked Kaz, treating him like a monster instead of as an individual. I love that the ideal knight of legend wasn’t revered as such during his own time. He was an oddity, and so was his friendship with Kaz, and that’s what made them both such strong individuals.

Huma isn’t perfect and I liked that. He’s lied to a direct superior in order to protect a childhood friend. He does what he feels is right which means occasionally going against the teachings of the Oath and the Measure. He does so because the Oath and the Measure don’t provide answers or direction for all eventualities in life, even though the Measure is composed of thirty-seven 300-page volumes. Other than Kaz and Huma, there are few other interesting characters. Gwyneth is one but barely. She’s one of Paladin’s dragon and she develops a romantic relationship with Huma just before he dies for his cause. She’s not well written or a standout female character but she’s part of the story and out of the three female characters in the book, she’s the best.  After all, she’s a fucking dragon and gets to kick some scaly ass all through the novel and that’s pretty great. Huma’s childhood friend, Magius, is also interesting. He’s a renegade, mages who have rejected the Three Orders of the Conclave of Mages (Life, Neutral, Dark). He’s shifty, but ultimately good and his search for power echoes that of one of the most famous Dragonlance characters.

There are other things that make this a good book. Part of it is the sense of simplicity and familiarity I have for Dragonlance novels. It might be unique to me and others who grew up reading the series but it might not be. There is no fluff to this story. It’s straightforward and earnest in its approach. It’s supposed to be that way and some Dragonlance writers didn’t get that. Knaak understands it and that’s one of the reasons why it’s an entertaining book. I also like that there is interior art. I wish more fantasy novels had interior art, even if it was just every chapter like it is for this book. As far as I can tell all of it was done by Valerie Valusek who’s done interior art for many novels in the series. It’s a bit unfortunate that many of the pictures are repeated from other books in the series, particularly the Chronicles trilogy. Still, she’s done some original art for this book, specifically images of Huma, Kaz, and a couple more specific to the Knighthood and the harnesses created for the use of dragonlances.

 The Legend of Huma is simple and comfortable. Huma's characterization is nothing new to the fantasy genre but it's still rather enjoyable to see him grow after each subsequent challenge he's faced with. Overall he's pretty reactionary; things just happen to him but he's heroic in how he takes on those challenges. He never asked or even yearned to be a hero but when he's put in a situation that requires him to do incredible things in order to survive, he doesn't back down. He’s supported through many of this by his developing love for Gwyneth, his honour-bound relationship with Kaz and the troublesome rediscovery of his childhood friend, Magius. Instead of writing a grand epic that is common in fantasy novels, Knaak focused on characters and repeated smaller battles. That’s not to say this isn’t a grand story, Huma fights on dragonback and defeats the goddess of Evil. It’s a pretty great story if you’re able to embrace the simplicity of it all. If you can’t, then maybe it’s best you avoid all Dragonlance novels because this is one of the better ones not penned by Weis or Hickman. 

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